So you are an NFL GM and your team has just gone “on the clock” in the NFL draft. Do you take the best player available (BPA) or do you fill a need? That is the key question that every team struggles with each and every draft. Well maybe not every team, some teams seem to always go BPA regardless of need (Matt Millen, we are looking at you) others seem to try and fill needs, value be damned (Al, kicker round 1?).
Personally I’m a big believer in maximizing the value of your picks. It means you have to look deeper than BPA and filling needs, you have to take into account the value of the pick and the size of the contract that a selection in that slot commands along with your team needs and the player rankings.
This years draft gives us a prime example of how maximizing the value of the selection would govern whom you should pick. Since I’m a Raiders fan we are going to use the #4 slot for this exercise.
Many draft boards have Darren McFadden as the BPA. Due the needs of the teams with the 1st three picks chances are McFadden will be there when the Raiders pick. The Raiders running backs are a pedestrian group with no real game breaker among them. So McFadden would seem like a great choice.
Not when you take value into account. If you are going to maximize the value you get out of the draft, you 1st have to set your draft board based on how players fit the system your team runs. With the Raiders zone cut scheme the running back and offensive line positions are not places you look to address with 1st round draft picks, at least not top 5 picks. You need a RB with good vision and the ability to take what the play gives him. A player, like McFadden, who looks to bounce outside every play and turn every play into a big gainer, is going to struggle until he learns the system.
Next you have to take into account the economic impact of your selection if you are going to maximize the value of the pick. Running backs whose impact lasts beyond 4 seasons are rare. A top 5 pick is a commitment of six years at franchise player money to an unproven player. If the Raiders were to select McFadden with the 4th overall selection they will be making him immediately among the 5 highest paid running backs in the league.
Then you look at your team needs. For the Raiders, IMO, it goes something like this:
You can swap the DE and DT slots depending on where Tommy Kelly lines up, which to me means that either one could be made #2 based on the fact that whichever you address, you can move Kelly to the other. With RB being #5 on my list, that means that you can add depth here later, and not worry about trying to find an every down back in the top 5.
Finally you look at the value of your pick. The trade value chart was a great tool when Jimmy Johnson developed it years ago. However, the incredible escalation of the contracts awarded to high draft picks has made it obsolete. There is a movement in the league to come up with a new chart to facilitate trades in the top 10, but I don’t think that you can come up with a chart that accurately addresses the draft from year to year.
This year there are five or six top prospects, then a wide gulf where the value isn’t there until late in the 1st round. But from the 2nd to the end of the 3rd there is great value in the draft. In my mind you have to adjust the chart to take this into account along with the financial aspect. This means the chart has to be adjusted every year based on how the talent in the draft lays out. Some years there are 8-10 top prospects, with little value after round 2, some years there are 2-3 top prospects with huge value in the 3rd and 4th round. But just try to get 32 different personnel staffs to agree on this every year.
Once you determine the value of your pick, and that of the later picks in the draft you can evaluate if trading down is an option for you. Using the established value chart, the Raiders would look foolish to trade down with Dallas for their two 1st round picks and a 3rd. That would be like leaving 2 - 3rd rounders on the table, but when you take the value of players available this year and economics into account, that is not a bad trade.
So you are back as the Raiders GM, the top 3 picks have come and gone, the Longs, Chris and Jake, and Glenn Dorsey are off the board. You are about to guarantee a player 28 - 30 million dollars. How do you maximize the value? Do you make a RB that doesn’t fit your system one of the top paid players at his position? Do you make a DT that duplicates the skill sets of two guys who are already on your team the 2nd highest paid player at his position in the league (Behind Dorsey)? Do you select a DE who can terrorize QB’s, but will need to be taken out on run downs? Or do you take a deal that will get widely criticized by the talking heads to move down?
If its me, I’m praying that Chris slips, hoping that someone doesn’t jump up for Gholston and planning to take advantage of the fact that this is a draft with little DT depth and teams will be desperate to fill that need, with the outside chance that Jerry Jones is crazy enough to believe that an Arkansas boy is the last piece to his Super Bowl puzzle. Talking heads be damned.